DURANGO, Colo. – The San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado will close to the public effective Tuesday week amid high fire danger and a raging wildfire that continues to grow.
The 416 Fire, which is burning about 10 miles north of Durango, had grown to more than 22,000 acres in size as of Monday and more than 2,000 homes had been evacuated.
The U.S. Forest Service said on Sunday that officials made the decision to institute a stage three fire closure to protect natural resources and ensure public safety. Officials expect the closure order to be signed and take effect on Tuesday, June 12.
The closure means the general public, most staff and others will be prohibited from entering the forest, which covers more than 2,800 square miles. The closure includes campgrounds, day use areas, roads, trails and wilderness areas.
Exemptions will only be allowed on a case-by-case basis with written authorization from the Forest Service. Violations of the closure carry a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in prison or both.
Officials said the closure will remain in place until the region receives enough moisture to improve fire danger.
A spokesperson for the San Juan National Forest said nobody at the forest can remember having to close due to fire. The order is scheduled to terminate on July 31.
The forest closure could deal another big blow to the region’s economy, which typically sees a boost from tourist dollars this time of year.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train, which runs through the area affected by the fire, has furloughed 150 seasonal employees and is considering canceling thousands of trips this month because of the fire, which could lead to a $33 million blow to the local economy, the Durango Herald reports.
Officials said conditions in La Plata County are similar to 2002, when the Missionary Ridge fire burned 70,000 acres and destroyed more than 40 homes.